Spanish artist, Ernesto Cánovas employs a multi-layered practice of painting, drawing, printmaking and photography. Cánovas’ artworks are heavily worked and only realised through careful contemplation. Exuding an ironic and somewhat discerning sense of obscurity, the subject matter is not always clarified. By combining the vocabulary of Pop Art with sources from old and new media, he successfully produces work that captures snapshots of the present-day, presenting the viewer with a duality from which the perceived truths are questioned and refashioned.
Spanish, b. 1971
Influenced by history, cinema and popular culture, Spanish artist Ernesto Cánovas sources images from old and new media to produce evocative, semi-abstract paintings that capture a fleeting moment in time. He interprets images of the past and shifts their meaning to raise questions about social issues, using a multi-layered technique that can suggest ambiguity and nostalgia.
Born in Barcelona in 1971 into a family that has a passion for art, with a father who is an amateur painter, Cánovas showed an early interest in art books and graphic novels. This led him to study design and illustration at art school in Barcelona. His subsequent acquisition of vast numbers of second-hand cameras reflected a growing fascination with photography and cinema.
Wishing to travel, Cánovas left Spain and lived for a while in a number of European cities. He comments, ‘The turning point to want to be an artist was during one of my first visits to London; I went to see the exhibition The Triumph of Painting at the old Saatchi Gallery, which at the time was showing works by Martin Kippenberger, Peter Doig, Franz Ackermann and Marlene Dumas.’ Other influences he cites include Gerhard Richter and master Japanese artists from Katsushika Hokusai to Takashi Murakami.
Moving to Edinburgh in 1997, Cánovas completed a Foundation Diploma in Fine Art and Design at Telford College in 2006 and then enrolled for a BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, followed by an MFA in Painting at London’s Slade School of Fine Art. In 2010, while still a student, Cánovas won the Stevenson Award for Painting with the piece Your Five a Day, displayed at the New Contemporaries exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh – an achievement all the more impressive given that he had come to the medium of painting a mere four years earlier. After final graduation, Cánovas took up an artistic residency in New York with his wife Gracjana Rejmer-Cánovas, an abstract painter whom he had met at the Slade.
Cánovas’ artistic practice is systematic and time-consuming, starting out from his own or found imagery taken from recent history and popular media. After digitally manipulating and de-contextualising the initial visual through a process involving reduction, magnification and cropping, he transfers these adaptations onto wooden panels. The natural, undulating grain in wood delights the artist and he relies on the individuality of its fibres to achieve the beautiful internal rhythm and dynamic quality that pervade his work. Employing a plethora of drawing and painting techniques he then begins the delicate process of building up layering with acrylic, ink and varnish to create a sense of depth, while still allowing an element of the original – ‘the essence of the image’ – to show through. Mystery lies beneath the surface of each work: ‘The image becomes a second-generation image as soon as I transfer the new image onto the prepared surface’.
Cánovas’ repertoire of beautiful vintage iconography, occasionally disrupted by abstract flashes of bright colour, aesthetically pleases yet emotionally disorientates the viewer. His approach to societal issues raises intriguing questions. In the two series ‘The Darkness of the American Dream’ (2009) and ‘Another Day at the Office’ (2012), he meditates on social infrastructure, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and worldwide economic chaos. Tantalisingly familiar images revive remote, frozen memories that threaten to vanish.
In 2010, Cánovas was selected for The Catlin Guide, an annual publication that profiles the 40 most promising new graduate artists in the UK. The following year, he was shortlisted for the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4’s New Sensations prize and was one of 20 chosen from among 600 graduates to exhibit at the New Sensations show in London during Frieze Week. In 2012, Cánovas was nominated for the Open West prize in Gloucester and was a prizewinner at Venice’s Premio ORA; he was shortlisted for the Threadneedle prize in London in 2013. He has exhibited widely in Europe and the USA and participated in international art fairs, including SCOPE Miami (2001), London Art Fair (2013) and Untitled Miami (2015).
In April 2014, Halcyon Gallery, London presented Cánovas’ inaugural exhibition An American Trilogy, a series of paintings which drew upon the artist’s personal recollections of the landscape and culture of the United States. In October 2014, this was followed by Turneresque, an exhibition of paintings that reference the works of Romantic landscape painter, J. M. W. Turner. Also in 2014, his work featured in a number of prestigious group exhibitions, including the Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition in London and Generation 14 at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh. In September 2015, Ernesto Cánovas presented Overlapping View, a collection which saw him make the transition from wood panels to aluminium, utilising a metal surface to portray his nostalgic photographic narratives.
February 2016 marked the artist’s return to Halcyon Gallery to exhibit Multiplied, a series using mixed media on large-scale wood panels as part of his continuing exploration of cinema, abstraction and found imagery. In May of that year, Cánovas exhibited for the first time in his native city of Barcelona at the Espronceda Centre for Art and Culture. That show, In One Breath, featured works he had completed during his residency there. In March 2017 he was selected for the group exhibition Clouded Lands at the Fundación Caja Burgos in Spain. One of his works has been acquired by the foundation for its permanent collection. In September 2017, Cánovas’ held an exhibition at Halcyon Gallery also titled In One Breath. This show was a continuation of the 2016 show at Espronceda and was inspired by the Japanese haiku form and, just as these miniature poems are delivered in a single breath, so his delicate and allusive works have a unity and underlying aura of simplicity.
2011 MA Fine Art, Slade School of Fine Art, University College London
2009 BA (Hons) Fine Art, Drawing and Painting, Edinburgh College of Art
2006 Foundation Diploma in Fine Art and Design, Edinburgh Telford College
2017 In One Breath, Halcyon Gallery, London
2016 In One Breath, Espronceda Center for Art & Culture, Barcelona, Spain
2016 Multiplied, Halcyon Gallery, London
2015 Alienation Peace, Ambacher Contemporary, Munich, Germany
2015 Overlapping View, Halcyon Gallery, London
2014 Turneresque, Halcyon Gallery, London
2014 An American Trilogy, Halcyon Gallery, London
2014 The New Arrivals, Ambacher Contemporary, Munich, Germany
2013 Obscure Truth, Patrick Davies Contemporary Art, London
2012 Luxury Decadence, Ambacher Contemporary, Munich
2012 Another Day at the office, Ambacher Contemporary, Munich
2010 South Pacific 1966, Two Windows Project, Berlin
2010 Milk, Two Sugars Please, Film House, Edinburgh
2009 La Conejera, Project room, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Berlin
2009 Dark Reflections, Studio Art Gallery, Edinburgh
2008 Solo Exhibition, Studio Art Gallery, Edinburgh
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
2017 Glut Data, ASC Chaplin Centre, London
2017 ESTELLE THOMPSON & ERNESTO CÁNOVAS: In Colours where we Meet, Ambachar Contemporary, Munich
2017 Pelé: Art Life Football, National Football Museum, Manchester
2017 Clouded Lands, Fundación Caja Burgos (CAB), Burgos, Spain
2016 Summer Exhibition, Halcyon Gallery, London
2016 Colectiva Monopatin 3, Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico (Part of the Puerto Rico Triennale 2016), Puerto Rico,USA
2016 Le Dessous des Recits, Galerie Gourvennec Ogor, Marseille, France
2016 Non-Profit Observations, Kir Royal, Valencia, Spain
2015 Pelé: Art, Life, Football, Halcyon Gallery, London
2015 The Art of Creating, Halcyon Gallery, London
2014 From Cocoanut Grove to Soho Nights, Paul Smith, London
2014 Summer Exhibition, Royal Academy, London
2014 Landshapes, Gallery Kir Royal Valencia, Spain
2014 Open Dialogues – Generation 14, Royal Academy, Edinburgh, Scotland
2013 Threadneedle Prize, Mall Galleries, London
2013 Summer Exhibition, Halcyon Gallery, London
2013 Essence of Things, Ambacher Contemporary, Munich, Germany
2012 Transfigurative, Pariothall Gallery, Edinburgh
2012 Choice White Space, McClure Art, Edinburgh
2012 (De)Constructions, Rollo Gallery, London
2012 The Open West Prize 2012 exhibition, Gloucester, UK
2011 New Sensations Prize 2011, Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4, Victoria House, London
2011 Bloomberg New Contemporaries, shortlisted, London –
2011 Slade Postgraduate Research 2011, Slade Research Centre, London
2011 Plan B, Two Windows Project, Berlin
2010 New Contemporaries, Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh
2010 Different Light Here, Le Garage Gallery, London
2010 Slade Interim Show, Slade Research Centre, University College London
2010 Fine Art exhibition, Candid Gallery, London
2010 Please Be There Tomorrow, Le Garage Gallery, London
2010 Boxers & Fighters, Two Windows Project, Berlin
2010 KunstVlaai / Art Pie, Westergasfabriek, Amsterdam
2015 Pelé: Art, Life, Football exhibition catalogue with essays: Brian Winter, ‘Why Pelé Still Inspires Us’; Dr. Bernard Vere, ‘Andy Warhol, Pelé, and the ‘Athletes’ Series’ (Halcyon Gallery)
2015 Overlapping View, exhibition catalogue with Introduction by Francesca Gavin (Halcyon Gallery)
2014 An American Trilogy, published by Halcyon Gallery, London
Espronceda Center for Art & Culture, Barcelona, Spain
Fundación Caja Burgos (CAB), Burgos, Spain
Soho House Collection, London
Paul Smith Limited, London
John Mclntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh University